Sex Offenders Set Up Camp
The Julia Tuttle becomes a colony. Politicians pass the buck.
The oldest offender is 82-year-old Manuel Perea, an arrival of just a few weeks ago. Perea, who is deaf, was sent to live under the Julia Tuttle after being arrested for his second sex offense, allegedly fondling three children while handing them a puppy on the street. He was fitted with a GPS unit, but can barely hear someone screaming into his ear, let alone the soft beeping of the box.
About a third of the men are harnessed with GPS monitors — despite the fact that they have no regular access to electricity to charge the batteries. If the generator is working, Ortiz usually obliges; otherwise the men either allow their boxes to shut down — technically a violation of their probations that could land them in jail — or resort to more extreme measures. One offender sometimes walks across the causeway to Wendy's, where he surreptitiously charges his box from a booth.
"What are you going to do with an 82-year-old guy who's a dirty old man?" says his lawyer, Ted Mastos, a former circuit court judge and state prosecutor. "The guy's got a problem — he's done it before. He's a problem, we recognize that, and that's the reason we entered a plea. But in our wildest dreams we never thought this would have happened.... His son is a very responsible guy and he's done yeoman service to try and find a place for his father," Mastos says. "And now an 82-year-old man has to die under a bridge, and nobody cares."
Manuel Perea walks a mile and a half along the causeway every night with slow, painstaking steps, carefully lifting his legs over the railing and descending under the bridge, politely waving a large wrinkled hand at the rest of the bridge dwellers as he passes by. Each night he slowly unpacks his bedding, lays it out on a concrete block, and goes to sleep. In the mornings, it takes him more than a half-hour to pack up the bedding.
"How the fuck can they put an 82-year-old man down here?" Ricardo asks one night, as the old man walks by, waving as usual. "That first night he got here, I hear beep beep beep.... I go, 'Fuck, it's the old man.' He can't even hear the box when it's right next to him."
"It's comedy," Ricardo murmurs, watching the old man's retreating shadow. "It's comedy and tragedy at the same time."